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Historical Vignette 025 - Asian-Pacific American Engineer Hero

The Medal of Honor is the United States' highest military decoration. A number of Engineer officers and enlisted personnel have received the award since its inception during the Civil War, including two officers who would become Chiefs of Engineers in the late nineteenth century. General Douglas MacArthur, who was an Engineer officer in the early years of his career, was awarded the honor for his service during World War II. Also among this diverse group of American heroes was Corporal Terry Teruo Kawamura, an Engineer soldier in the 173d Engineer Company, 173d Airborne Brigade.

Terry Kawamura was born on December 10, 1949, in Wahiawa on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. His parents were both of Asian and Pacific Island heritage, and his father also served in the U.S. Army. Terry entered the Army in 1968 and was eventually assigned to the 173d Engineer Company.

The 173d Engineer Company was part of the elite 173d Airborne Brigade, which was the first U.S. Army ground combat unit to enter South Vietnam in 1965. Four years later the 173d were in the central highlands of South Vietnam at Camp Radcliff, a vast American base near the city of An Khe. On March 20, 1969, an enemy demolition team infiltrated the 173d Engineer Company’s quarters area firing automatic weapons. The Medal of Honor citation vividly describes Corporal Kawamura’s heroism:

"Disregarding the intense fire, Cpl. Kawamura ran for his weapon. At that moment, a violent explosion tore a hole in the roof and stunned the occupants of the room. Cpl. Kawamura jumped to his feet, secured his weapon, and, as he ran toward the door to return the enemy fire, he observed that another explosive charge had been thrown through the hole in the roof to the floor. He immediately realized that 2 stunned fellow soldiers were in great peril and shouted a warning. Although in a position to escape, Cpl. Kawamura unhesitatingly wheeled around and threw himself on the charge. In completely disregarding his safety, Cpl. Kawamura prevented serious injury or death to several members of his unit."

President Richard M. Nixon presented the Medal of Honor posthumously to Corporal Kawamura's family for his "extraordinary courage and selflessness" and "conspicuous gallantry . . . above and beyond the call of duty."

President Nixon presenting the Medal of Honor
to the Kawamura family

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June 2001